2004-11-19 / Community

Discovery Process In AA 587 Case Put Off To March

By Howard Schwach


Guillermo Lineras, left, with Congressman Anthony Weiner. Lineras, who is the mayor’s Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, says that most of the family members agreed to a memorial at Beach 116 Street and only spoke out against it at the site of the crash because of the emotion of the day. 
Guillermo Lineras, left, with Congressman Anthony Weiner. Lineras, who is the mayor’s Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, says that most of the family members agreed to a memorial at Beach 116 Street and only spoke out against it at the site of the crash because of the emotion of the day. The legal discovery process, which many family members believe is their only chance of finding out the true cause of the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 into Belle Harbor in November of 2001, has been put on hold once again by Federal Judge Robert Sweet.

In a short hearing shortly after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) ruled that the accident was caused by the first officer, who used the rudder controls on the Airbus A300-600 “excessively and unnecessarily,” the judge ruled that discovery would be kept on hold to allow for more settlements between family members and a consortium of Airbus Industries and American Airlines.

“The judge really didn’t explain why he was putting off the discovery process, but he seemed happy to note that more families had settled their suits between the last hearing and this,” said Blanca Rodriquez, an attorney with Kriendler and Kriendler and the liaison between the family members and the many attorneys who handle their cases. “There are more cases settled as time goes by and the judge sees no impasse [that would make him re-institute discovery].

Two hundred and two of the two hundred and sixty-five cases have reportedly been settled by the parties.

“The judge hopes that the final report by the NTSB will spur more family members to make settlements,” she adds.

By opening the discovery process, the court would then be able to subpoena documents and hear evidence on the cause of the crash.

Should all of the family members settle, the discovery process would be forever stilled, according to aviation law experts.

A number of family members do not want to see that happen and have refused all settlement offers.

They are unhappy that the discovery process remains on hold.

“I don’t understand why the settlement negotiations and document formalities cannot proceed in parallel,” says Keith Williams, whose wife, Kathleen, died in the crash. “Somehow, we bereaved are getting the idea that the defendant’s delaying tactics are being rewarded. There’s no incentive for them to act honorably. Even rapists and kidnappers and murderers get a speedy trial. Why are we treated so much worse that these criminals?”

Williams says that he and other families who have not settled have been treated with “significant disdain” by the lawyers representing Airbus and American Airlines.

He added that they were unlikely to settle even with the final NTSB report. Rodriquez says that there are many clients who will not settle at the present time, because they “are serious about their wish to have a trial to resolve the issue [of what caused the crash].”

At the same time, she predicted, more of the family members will settle. Rodriquez said that the possibility of a trial depends largely on the question of punitive damages. She argues that, should the judge rule out the question of punitive damages, then the trial that ensues would be only on the question of individual damages and not liability.

She told The Wave that whether or not punitive damages will be part of the trial depends largely on the laws of which jurisdiction the judge chooses to use in his decision.

The plane came down in New York State, for example, and this state allows for punitive damages.

Since the tail of the plane fell off over water, general maritime laws could control the question, and Rodriquez says that maritime law is “unclear” on the question.

Or, since Airbus is a French corporation, the laws of that nation might control the question. Finally, since some of the alleged “wrongdoing” by Airbus in covering up the problems with the rudder controls occurred in German, that nation’s laws might control. Neither French nor German law allows for punitive damages, according to Rodriquez.

“After the controlling law is decided,” Rodriquez adds, “then there has to be sufficient evidence of misconduct.” “Aviation cases are often complex,” she concluded. “And this one is certainly no exception.”

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